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Richard H. Schwartz
Vegan, climate change,and social justice activist

Celebrating Passover As If Global Survival Matters

As I write this, in early April 2024, the war is raging in Gaza. Hence, our main focus must be on the devastation of Hamas, bringing all the hostages home safely, and reducing antisemitism. However, we should also address climate threats since they are an existential threat to the US, Israel, and the entire world.

March was declared the hottest March in recorded history, making it the tenth consecutive month to break a temperature record. The last nine years were the hottest since temperature records were widely recorded. This has resulted in a substantial increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. Climate experts are issuing increasingly dire warnings, indicating that an irreversible tipping point may soon be reached when the climate spins out of control, with disastrous consequences.

Israel is especially threatened by climate change because the hotter, drier Middle East projected by climate experts makes instability, terrorism, and war more likely. Also, a rising Mediterranean Sea could inundate the coastal plain that includes much of Israel’s population and infrastructure.
Hence, everything possible must be done to avert a global climate catastrophe. The most essential change is a shift away from animal-based diets, for two very important reasons. First, cows and other ruminants emit methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as potent as CO2 per unit weight during the 10-15 years it is in the atmosphere.
Second, forests are being destroyed to create land for grazing and growing feed crops for animals, adding to the 43 percent of the world’s ice-free land already being used for these purposes. If much of that land were reforested, much atmospheric CO2 would be sequestered, reducing it from its current very dangerous level to a  much safer one. This would help leave a habitable, healthy, environmentally sustainable world for future generations.

Many Jews commendably spend many hours getting rid of chometz before Passover. Then they partake in the seder and other meals containing much meat and other animal products, contributing substantially to climate threats. If G-d is concerned about us getting rid of every speck of chometz, G-d surely must want our diets to avoid harming our health, inflicting suffering and violence on animals, damaging the environment, and depleting our natural resources.

It is time to apply Judaism’s important teachings to our diets, demonstrating their relevance to current problems and helping shift our precious but imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.
Passover, the holiday of freedom, presents a wonderful opportunity to free ourselves from personally and globally harmful and destructive eating habits.Jewish teachings advocate protecting our health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment,  conserving natural resources, reducing hunger, and pursuing peace.It is easy to shift to plant-based diets today because in addition to a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, there are now many plant-based substitutes with appearances, textures, and tastes very similar to those for meat and other animal products.
Our well-being and survival depend on this. There is no Planet B or effective Plan B.
About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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